Review: Hope and Red by Jon Skovron
Published by Orbit on June 30th 2016
In a fracturing empire spread across savage seas, two young people from different cultures find common purpose. A nameless girl is the lone survivor when her village is massacred by biomancers, mystical servants of the emperor. Named after her lost village, Bleak Hope is secretly trained by a master Vinchen warrior as an instrument of vengeance. A boy becomes an orphan on the squalid streets of New Laven and is adopted by one of the most notorious women of the criminal underworld, given the name Red, and trained as a thief and con artist. When a ganglord named Deadface Drem strikes a bargain with the biomancers to consolidate and rule all the slums of New Laven, the worlds of Hope and Red come crashing together, and their unlikely alliance takes them further than either could have dreamed possible.
Hope and Red could be the fun read you are looking for, especially if you love stories about thieves and vengeance, and warrior women. The two main characters are in quite different settings, each with intriguing elements. The story follows these two characters whose lives are both shattered from what they knew when they were young. Their paths after their tragedies are very different, yet similar in some ways. Here is the thing about this book. It is full of familiarity and predictability. These are not necessarily bad, depending on what you are looking for. I mean, there is a reason certain elements become familiar and predictable. It’s because generally, people enjoy them! If you are craving an easy, fun read with adventure and ups and downs, this could be good.
I am always a sucker for stories of women who break the normal gender barriers. So, for this, I love that Hope is being trained to be a Vinchen warrior. This training is not easy, and she is certainly not accepted among the men of the order. But she powers through with dedication and becomes a fierce warrior. She becomes proof that, given the chance, there are women who can accomplish the same levels (or greater) as men. Hope faces some interesting dilemmas as she is so driven by vengeance, she has to at some point evaluate that. At what point does vengeance cost you more than it will gain?
Now, another thing that I noticed was Hope’s inconsistent adherence to a code of honor that she followed as part of her warrior training. This is a hard one to explain without an example, but I usually try to not go into too many concrete details in my reviews. So, while I don’t really think this is a major spoiler, I will put it in spoiler tags just in case. View Spoiler »The most memorable instance for this complaint was after Hope slaughtered like two dozen men (I didn’t count, so the number may not be quite accurate) in the book, many by stealth and from behind, she suddenly gets to one target and decides she has to follow a code of honor that prevents her from just killing him when she had the chance and instead declaring her intention of killing him. Huh? Maybe if she hadn’t killed so many others without doing this, I wouldn’t think anything of it. But with the way the story unfolded I felt like it was just an excuse to set up a different event in the book that would not have been possible otherwise. « Hide Spoiler Maybe there are just some nuances to the warrior code that differentiates these scenarios and I just missed it.
Honestly, while the books characters go by “Hope” and “Red” they are really “Mary Sue” and “Gary Stu”. These two characters accomplish amazing things through the greatest odds. Really, its kind of unbelievable what they can do, but I think that is also the point. This is a fantastical tale of two characters that are in many ways larger than life. This is one of those things that can come down to reader preference, because sometimes it is just plain fun reading about a character doing the impossible and somehow always managing to come out on top. There’s a reason why you see that in books, it can be very fun! I think it is just better to know upfront, because I know that I, personally, have to be in the mood for that when I pick up a book.
I found Red to be a very likable character. He did not grow up in the rough part of town he lives in now, and had a softer, kinder life for his first few years. This seemed to give him a little bit different perspective. But life can be unexpected, and he found himself a very unlikely mother figure. It was interesting seeing his determination to make a name for himself, and see his skill make it seem feasible. Like I said earlier, he is definitely a bit of a Gary Stu, but he is at least a fun Gary Stu. The kind I don’t mind inviting into my books.
And lastly, I don’t really want to make this a major point, but decided to bring it up. I am usually quite accepting of whatever lingo an author wants to use. I am far from easily offended or put off. But I have to be honest. The term “cunt-droppings” (which refers to foolish people) really started to annoy me. The first time, I confess, I actually chuckled a little. The second time I was ambivalent. But the third time I decided it irked me. And every instance of it after that bothered me more. I think part of it was I never liked the term “slice” that is used for women in this book. Its usually a derogatory term (depending on who is using it). That in and of itself is not the issue for me. I just didn’t like it because it felt a little too visually representative of the female genitalia. Maybe that is a short coming on part, but it is my honest reaction. So, pair that with referring to people as “cunt-droppings” (also a little too visual) and I just about had it. Maybe others won’t have these hang ups. I usually don’t, so I was surprised to struggle with these terms in this book.
Overall, this can be a fun read for the right reader. There is plenty of action and fun. I may have had a few issues, but I don’t think they will be universal problems for all readers. If it sounds interesting, I think it is worth giving a read.
Review Originally posted on The Speculative Herald.